Yes I know this is coming very late. I unfortunately got wrapped up in my own bullshit this month and didn’t release this in a timely matter. Nor opened voting for the month of April. However, better late than never, these are the top 10 songs voted on by our group of Artists/Djs/reviewers/Lables/and Superfans released in the Month of March. No pay to play, just your votes on great darkwave music.
Lockjaw – Annihilove
Dead Cool – Stranger Kind
Giant Monsters On The Horizon – Secret or a Lie Featuring Arden and the Wolves
Self Titled Album – Economic Housing Anxieties(STA Mix)
Dread Risks – Machine Identity (in the walls mix by God Module)
Lockjaw – Annihilove – Excited to see a band new to the group and from Milwaukee grab the number one spot with their first single on the chart. Look for an upcoming interview I did with Medavon we will release soon. I was drawn in right away by this lean wolf, untamed wilderness goth. It has a wonderful stalking hungry Iggy Pop feel synthesized with electronic beats. Lockjaw has had some previous success playing with some big names in the scene. Returning with a vengeance of hard rock riffs and recklessly revolving percussion I will be paying close attention to the project going forward.
2) DEAD COOL – Stranger Kind – Wilmington death pop duo makes their return to this chart with a sizzling new retro trance song with 8bit major motion digital drive and Johnny’s wide beam vocals and lyrical painting. I love the brushstroke of Angela’s phonograph spoken word line.
3) Giant Monsters on the Horizon – Secret or a Lie Featuring Arden and the Wolves – Glorious across the continent collaboration from St Louis to California. Cyberpunk electronica band Giant Monsters On the Horizon lay down a FILTHY beat that twists and writhes to lay a pathway for my favorite vocal performance by Arden. Something about their voice always feels like lashing motion. The dynamics and venom of this glowing green delivery make every line hit home. Total Banger.
4) unitcode:machine – Undone (Aesthetic Perfection Remix) – Texas native Eric Kristoffer has been on an absolute tear this year. Singing with COP, releasing this instant classic hit with 3 legends doing remixes. Daniel Graves absolutely crushed this slowly unspooling the story and highlighting a premier vocal talent in the modern scene. Pay attention to this future star.
5) INSULIN SHOCKS – Eva X – Virtualsexual (Braindance Mix) – British Colombia Cyberrave single featuring Gaby of Eva X. She delivers this lovely terrifying AI choir you expect to hear right before the machines take over. Let yourself be assimilated, resistance is futile.
6) Kill Shelter & Death Loves Veronica – Sex Tape – Everything Pete does will be at the top of my buy list. Add in the smokey embodiment of a David Lynch film in sonic form Veronica Campbell. You have an instant recipe for a delicious sensual club banger. The craft displayed for every subtitle detail in song writing. Veronica’s temptress whisper. Nothing better than a song that starts a conversation while slapping this hard. You need this.
7) EN ESCH – Push – Industrial legend En Esch collaborates with Gabriel Lennox newly on Give/Take with a rawkus 90’s industrial sound with a tent revival spiritual chant. I love the vocal layers and resonant clarity breaking the standard of the industrial roots. That clear breakdown at 4 minutes in particular is an absolutel gem.
8) Ritual Howls – Dark Ceiling In Tennessee – A different sound for the Detroit band. Personally I am loving this darkwave jangling spurs Violator vibe. Around 1:30 a flaming sword guitar lead cuts the tension. Paul Bancell fully embraces classic goth Baritone, which strikes the mark freshly against the digital chainsaw static. Personally this is my favorite Ritual Howls to date.
9) Self Titled Album – Economic Housing Anxieties(STA Mix) – Wonderful to see the Utah band back on out single charts. I have tried and describing Self Titled Album is always a Herculean effort. It is deeply honest and vulnerable spoken poetry in a psychedelic haze and electronic glide. A complex mixture i am glad our group reconizes and appreciates.
10) Dread Risks – Machine Identity (in the walls mix by God Module) – My favorite Doomdustrial from Texas remixed by God Module and released on Re:Mission Records. I love everything about this sentence. Jason Bangert really adds a slippery wetness to Dread Risks usually boot stomping destructive power. If your club isn’t working this into your local dance night you are being done a disservice.
2023 has not been a great year for me doing written reviews. No time like the present to get back on track. I continue to be surprised how people keep finding new directions to explore sounds and human experience. Hopefully this article leads you to a new favorite band to love and support. If you find something you enjoy in this article, Please share it, maybe someone else will find something to brighten their day.
Jean-Marc Lederman – Soul Music For Zombies – The brilliant Belgian composer is always finding a new way to astound me. It is as if twelve brilliant writers live inside his skull and fight for control of what the next album will be. This album travels back to the beginning, when music decided to tap into something primal and internal. A circulatory system of connection and automation. Jean-Marc has a level of talent and skill that often leaves me flabbergasted. The greatest of which is an ability to create an emotional connection without reaching. Listening to this album never feels like a production or manipulation. It’s a ticket I bought, a seat on a magical vessel of experience and sensation. As a reviewer it is a difficult task to quantify something so exceptionally crafted, that on your best day, you could never produce. To step outside your own comprehension and appreciate the journey. This might be the most powerful statement in a career I can barely scratch the surface of.
The Music Walks Again (The Robert Johnson Story) Featuring Emileigh Rohn – The collaboration of these brilliant producers has produced some of my favorite music of the last 5 years. Every song feels like a meaningful conversation. A compromise of ideas. A tapestry made stronger by interwoven threads. Slow rhythmic strings and a hint of distortion paving individual footfalls for the beautiful clarity of her voice. This is an old story in blues. Robert Johnson goes to the crossroads at midnight. Offers his soul in exchange for playing something truly meaningful, something to last. The short, extraordinary life of an artist. To choose an eternity of suffering for a moment of perfection.
Didn’t Your Mama Tell You How To Behave ? – Electronic blues assault with an intensity to splashes on the back of the room. A single simple idea brought into rhythmic chant to hold together a spirit induced cacophony. I dare you not to feel this.
Jean-Marc Lederman does not disappoint as a rule. This album has tapped into a devotion to music and spirit that is transcendent in it’s youthful quest that follows the heart. An outstanding addition to your collection.
MORIS BLAK – BURIAL + VOID – The Boston, Massachusetts Electronic Body Music artist has continued to evolve and gather attention from the electronic community like moths to the flame. What jumps out most from previous works is the way the tempo is held back to add weight and inertia. Each song adds a guest talent to give it a unique frequency. GenCab, Kofin, SYZYGYX, Rabbit Junk, all add a distinct seasoning to this chaos electro antimatter stew.
Favorite Track: Procession – Banger alert! Heavy waves of cadence explosion with a beautiful duet vocal that tested the boundaries of both artists. The perfect song to let go and spin out of your own reality.
This Spring catch Moris Blak out on tour with Danny Blu a live show you will not want to miss.
unitcode:machine – Undone – Dallas, Texas industrial artist newly signed to COP International with a new single/remix release. Eric is another artist I feel I have watched evolve into one of the most prolific electronica vocalists of the new wave. THREE STELLAR REMIXES BY TOP NAMES IN THE SCENE (aesthetic perfection, stabbing WESTWARD, assemblage 23) . IN THE VEIN OF SILVERWALKS LAST YEAR, THIS PROMISES TO BE ONE OF THE MOST MEMORIBLE THINGS WRITTEN THIS YEAR.
Hem Netjer – The Song Of Trees – what an amazing growth for the world beat shadowcraft band from Vancouver, British Columbia. A truly unique blend of trance tendril synths, authentic throat singing, priestess croon, and rapture. A harken back to the spiritual soul and cultural exploration of Dead Can Dance, Projekt Records. The patience and subtlety crafting stories with words are an enchantment that burns into the listener’s mind. This is a band that has tapped into something beautiful and primal and have exploded past their own ceiling.
Favorite Track: Eldur – At 5:33 this is not a catchy hook single, but nothing about Hem Netjer strives towards simplicity. They are at their best when crafting a heady and meaning brew. This track fully highlights and range and soul of Raven’s voice in perfect harmony with evergreen energy pulse.
Hem Netjer is: Raven Rissy, David Deckard and Jesse Ellytt Lyrics: Raven Rissy Composition: Raven Rissy and David Deckard Throat Singing: Jesse Ellytt
Recording at: Jacknife Sound with Jason Corbett (Actors) Music Production: Scott Fox (iVardensphere)
Beborn Beton – Darkness Falls Again – German Synthlords return from a brief respite with one of the sizzling early contenders for album of the year. A 9th album full of vibrant passion. Stefan Netschio has a distinctive voice that is drawing you towards him with every inhalation. The hooks are constructed brilliant energon cubes free of fractures. Hand to evil leather bound tomb, this is what Depeche Mode wishes they were releasing in 2023.
Favorite Track: Dancer In The Dark – Sometimes I want to pretend I am aloof and cool, not falling in love with the first single off the album. This is such an undeniable banger it would be a disservice to deny the truth in front of everyone. The beat, the lead, the vocals, everything about this song is chefs kiss perfection.
I didn’t write this review the very next day after the show. I spent the following day basking in the afterglow and just reminiscing this sublime experience; like a freshman the morning after a classic rager. With some shows, the band plays and the crowd stands there and watches. Other shows make the crowd feel like they were truly part of an event. Seeing Aesthetic Perfection’sAmerican Psycho Tour come through San Diego was such an event.
I’m glad I arrived at The Casbah early. Turns out there were actually FIVE bands on the bill, rather than the advertised three. More on that later.
Opening the show was LA’s Arden & The Wolves, which came as a total surprise to me. As we’re both friends of Sounds & Shadows, Arden Leigh and I had been in communication for various reasons over the last several months. But as A&TW was a last minute addition to the bill, I was thrown a pleasant curveball on this. If fact, so many members of the “family” were present this night, it felt like a Sounds & Shadows mixer.
Simply put, A&TW have their shit together. The playing was solid and on-point, with Nick Mason (NOT the Nick Mason of Pink Floyd ) having the tightest drumming of the night. Pete Mills on guitar and Justin Emord on bass compliment Arden Leigh’s commanding stage presence. With the disciplined polish to her look and sound, I got the feeling Arden could have done this show in her sleep. She was, however, very much awake with an energy and enthusiasm that sucked in any onlookers. And with the number of San Diego fans who turned out to see this LA band on a Sunday night, it’s obvious that this is a band with traction and an appeal that will only grow over time.
Next up was an act I knew nothing about ahead of time, Halo Boy. Now this was an interesting twist I didn’t see coming; hip-hop infused indie pop with a none-too-subtle industrial edge. Sounds like it would be a hot mess, right? Instead, Cameron Cade takes all these influences and intelligently combines them into an eclectic blend where no two songs sounded the same and kept the crowd guessing where it would go next. Afterwards, I overheard people in the audience comparing them to everything from Imagine Dragons to Hollywood Undead. Linkin Park was another name that popped up more than once in the conversation as well.
Halo Boy’s live show is very energetic with the zeal of youth. This guy was on fire and wasn’t afraid to singe the onlookers who were standing too close; jumping into the crowd, giving random hugs and starting a mosh pit. The rhythm section was locked in and took the songs where they needed to go. And I had to give the bass player credit for showing grace under pressure after his E string broke on the last song.
Following Halo Boy came the band I was most excited to see initially, Philadelphia’s genCAB. Having written about genCAB previously, I was intrigued by how they would pull off their sound live. Turns out the lineup on this night was stripped down to the duo of David Dutton and Cristian Carver.
Don’t get the idea that this made the show any less. They were having a ball onstage and the enthusiasm was contagious. And while the band was perhaps a bit socially lubricated courtesy of the friendly Casbah bar staff, they steered into the skid and made even their mistakes work for them in a fun and powerful live show.
David exudes a natural onstage charisma and Christian was on a epic tear with crazy flying hair and flying drumsticks. And while all the bands brought their “A” game, genCAB proved to be on a level that was easily on-par with their LA counterparts.
Three bands in and not a dud yet. Josie Pace hit the ground running to keep the show moving along. Talk about showmanship! Josie and accompanist Ken Roberts stepped onto that drum-cramped stage and proceeded to own it. Funny thing, but I realized that I was more familiar with Josie’s oeuvre than I thought thanks to the Sounds & Shadows Spotify playlist. Next thing I know, I’m singing along to songs like Underestimated and Storm And Stress.
I’m hard-pressed to decide between Arden and Josie who had the strongest voice of the night, as both of them kicked my ass with epic vocal performances. I’ll just call it Apples & Oranges and leave it there. Pace closed her truncated set with a cover of Placebo’sPure Morning that I liked better than the original. I went in thinking I didn’t know what to expect only to come away with a fanboy crush.
And, of course, we have Aesthetic Perfection as the headliner.
Sexy, weird and loud; this show had three of my favorite flavors. Daniel Graves is certainly a performer with an ability to move the crowd, even if he did get a humorous talking to from drummer Joe Letz for forgetting the next song on the setlist. Constance Antoinette Day did the heavy lifting; playing guitar, keys and bass variously throughout the set as she effectively played up the gothic sex kitten image.
It took me a while to recognize Letz, although the androgynous latex look doesn’t disagree with him. And his fetching blond wig was a nice touch. He flailed, he gyrated, he drank from a dildo-shaped water bottle. Those of us in the front were in danger of being hit with water or flying drumsticks at any given time. At one point, I was worried about getting smacked by the floor tom. I feel for the drum tech on this tour.
Most of the songs were newer, if not from the newest release, MMXXI, but there were indeed a few crowd-pleasers to be had. It wasn’t the tightest set I’ve seen, but that didn’t seem to be the point. Make it hard, make it punchy, make it memorable; that was the order of the day.
My only complaint? It turns out that A&TW and Halo Boy were added to the bill after winning a battle of the bands in Los Angeles. However, it was explained to me that each tour stop was supposed to have a local act as an opener. As a native-born lifelong San Diegan, I wish to point out the following: LOS ANGELES IS NOT SAN DIEGO. Thank you, that is all.
San Diego was the last leg of the American PsychoTour in California. Those of you who get a chance to check out Aesthetic Perfection onthe road have a raucous night full of music and antics to look forward to. Although there may be moments when you’ll want to keep a safe distance from the stage.
(CORRECTION:Halo Boy and Arden did not win the Battle of the Bands for Los Angeles, BlakLight did and played with AP on that date. Arden won for San Diego. Halo Boywas a last minute addition to all the California shows.)
There has always been an unspoken aspect of creating great music and finding a way to promote it to people. They are two completely different skill sets required to be successful often taken for granted. Just like playing guitar, singing, ect, connecting and promoting music is a skill. It can be learned. It also comes much easier for some people than others. In 2021, in a social media, boutique record label, streaming-platform world, this is more relevant than ever. I see my social media feed everyday full of people saying, “Why do I not get noticed?”. I am not a public relations expert. My band, Amaranth, is not a household name. I have been able to take my music review page Sounds and Shadows from nothing, to a webcasting Facebook group with global viewership in three years, which has drastically effected the bands popularity and impact. So I would like to share some of the things I think could help you and your project. In addition to me, Sounds and Shadows has put me in contact with some of the most successful bands in the dark-scene. True innovators who each have done something original to get noticed in the modern era. Some have graciously offered to share some of the secrets that helped them garner attention and propel them on the international stage. My hope is this article helps lift all ships and propels the scene I love to it’s greatest heights.
You have to make something great in this day and age to stand out
There is so much amazing music being made. As a reviewer it truly feels like a tidal wave of astonishing stuff all the time. The fact that everyone has access to decent recording equipment in their home at a price below $100 an hour means the doors are open to creative expression in a way they have never been. It also means you can get out there before you find yourself, or hone your craft to what you are capable of. Having something that truly stands out is REALLY hard. The good news is information on how to get to that level is readily available. Every sound is there for you to practice with and create the exact vision in your mind. There is even a niche to find in the world for the cutting edge you are imagining. You do need to have a realistic goal of what you want to achieve and how much you are willing to compromise to reach that size audience. If you want to do this as a lifestyle, be prepared to work really hard at it.
2. True fans, the ones you need, first need to believe in a concept, not just a song
If there was ever a time when writing a good song and being a great musician was enough, it isn’t now. The truth is people have never cared about the glorious hot licks you can play. They want to be associated with an idea, an image you portray on stage. It was true for the Beatles, The Stones, Bowie, and Joy Division. It is just as true today. I’m not saying you need to be pretty, aloof, or anything else. You need to know who you are, do an intense projection of that, and be willing to share it. What’s more, the days of the asshole, I’m above you Rockstar are done. There are too many talented people making music. Requiring you not to be an a hole is not a big ask. Appreciate your supporters, be something worth believing in, make your music and lyrics something real. if you don’t want to put in the effort, you likely won’t generate excitement.
3. You need to act like you don’t need this shit, then you get the shit for free
if you are doing this for fame, you are in the wrong game. Every time I see a post that says, “why is no one paying attention to me,” you are really saying everyone pay attention to the fact that what I am doing isn’t catching on. Instead you need to focus attention on why people should. We all experience moments of doubt. If you make that your focus, it looks thirsty. Instead ask yourself: Am I reaching out to the right people? Am I sharing myself in the right way? Is this ready to blow people away?
4. If you want others to be invested in you, be invested in them.
I can say definitively that doing a music review page/Webcast/Facebook group has made our band Amaranth 10 times bigger than we have a right to be. Lifting up others in the scene, commenting and sharing DJs/reviewers/bands forms a connection. People know you and when you lift others up it makes a statement about you. If you really believe in the music you are making, invest in yourself by reaching out to bands who have more time in and are more successful than you. Get a remix done; sometimes that costs money. Contribute to a compilation. Share and review other bands. Go into Dj shows (join the Twitch chat, say hello). This gets you involved with the people who drive the scene. When you have something come out, they know your name. Reach out to Djs/review pages personally. Don’t send a form letter to 300 people. Get to know the show/page. Reach out to ones that fit your sound. Send them a personal message that shows you follow and know them. Tell them you have a Bandcamp code for them because you know they have great taste and would like this. Same with bands. Take a moment to tell someone they matter to you. You would be surprised how much it matters. They may do a solid for you some day.
5) Tell a story, don’t just beanother link spam.
Social media is part of the job now. There are a lot of platforms and ways to do it. Ignoring it is not an option in 2021. Investing some money in advertising something important like a video/album/single/tour is a solid idea. The most bang for your buck is a well thought out google add with the right tags and marketing. Not everyone has cash for that, it’s not the only way. It does help though. Facebook groups/Reddit/Twitter are another way to beat the algorithm and get reach. Again it is about genuine connection. There is no shortcut. You need to be involved in groups. Not just show up only to post links to your band. Also when you post, give people something to engage with. Tell the story of why this song matters, ask a question to engage with, spill a little poetry that gets people excited. No one wants to feel like a faceless number. If your post feels like that, you don’t have anyone’s attention.
6. Be a subject matter expert
I don’t remember who said the quote to me, “If you want to be a great writer, read great writers”. It is the truest thing in the world. The same is true of music. If you want to make the best music possible, listen to who is doing it well. I don’t just mean the classics (Although that never hurts). I mean who is leading the charge today. Even when you don’t know you are learning, you are learning. Watch Interviews, hear what successful artists have to say, try new techniques, if you don’t know them, watch a youtube video. This goes for production, playing and instrument, or doing promotion. We have a wealth of information like never before. Drink it in.
7. Run up and say hello.
GO TO SHOWS! (Or Livestreams in a pandemic). If you want to be seen, you have to go see. Say hello to touring bands, Local Djs, be useful to them. Tell them why you enjoyed the show, get some merch. Then, tell them what you do and are about. Word gets around, bands talk. If you establish yourself as someone invested in growing the scene, who knows, you may just find yourself getting some opening slots for touring bands. You still need to be the one to bring it and turn heads once you get the slot. Being known as a positive energy person in a local scene goes a long way. Join Facebook groups like Sounds and Shadows, just don’t be the one to treat people like you just stopped by to promote and leave. Be involved. Get the lay of the land and comment on other peoples posts. Start a list of DJs and review pages. Bandcamp allows you to print a spreadsheet of codes. Sending a personal message with a code to these influencers is worth their weight in gold. Again the key is having a personal message, not a form letter spammed to hundreds of Djs.
8) Be nice, throw the doors open and let people connect.
This takes effort. It takes spoons. Sharing a part of yourself. Leaving a Bday message. Saying hello when you see someone on your feed is high or low. Basically make sure people know they mean something to you. If you treat them like consumers, then expect them to share, comment, give a shit about your band. You may find yourself in a lonely place. The same goes for shows (does everyone remember those). Both your own, and other peoples. A moment of your time and energy can increase exponentially when you let someone know you appreciate their support.
These are all tips I genuinely believe in. Who the fuk am I though? 🙂 So I have reached out to some artists who have all done something unique and special in the modern era and ask about how they stood out using techniques available to you now. Listen and learn, these are all people who managed to turn heads by doing something creative.
Jason Corbett – Actors – Vancouver based post punk stars have sold a lot of albums and toured extensively. Rising to the top and redefining the genre. The are also Canadian and REALLY friendly. Forming a connection with fans around the world.
Ken: You have toured extensively around the world, forged connections which led to fans and opportunities. How has this been effective for you, and what have you done to make each show so memorable for fans?
Jason:We played over 150 shows in support of our debut album. It was exciting and exhausting. We made sure to make each show count and never lost sight of why we were out on the road. When the chemistry is right you run with it. We wouldn’t dream of someone spending their time and money to come see us and us not giving our all.
Ken: Your Facebook fan group The Academy has really become a beacon for what fan interaction can be. Like the recent memes on the album cover. How have you built a fan experience here and on other social media that makes a lasting impression globally?
Jason: Wherever we toured fans would comment to us that we were friendly and outgoing. I realized that we didn’t have to conform to any preconceived notion of what it meant to be a band. We could just be ourselves. The bonds with fans just started to happen naturally and that carried through to our online presence as well. Of course Kym Pop who started The Academy on Facebook does an amazing job of keeping the conversation happening. I’ve been a musician for a long time. I’m genuinely grateful for all the support we’ve had and I don’t take it for granted.
Ken: What do you hold as the greatest factors in you making the transition from Vancouver to global recognition?
Fans who listen to music like ACTORS are typically close knit and supportive. Our self-released singles slowly garnered enough attention online that Artoffact Records approached us with a record deal. That record deal brought us to the attention of wider audiences and we continue to grow month after month. I believe there’s an honesty in our music. People connect to artists that are coming from their truth.
Isaac Howlett – Empathy Test – British based electronic songsmiths who have shot to amazing heights in the past 5 years through amazing songs, extensive touring, and a non stop effort to DIY determination and fan connection.
Ken: What are some of the DIY techniques you used to gain momentum when starting out?
Isaac: Okay, well, when Empathy Test began, we were complete unknowns in the music world. We needed to build an audience fast, to get noticed. The main tools at our disposal were SoundCloud, Facebook and Twitter. Obviously, the best platforms for an artist to use to promote themselves change regularly, and the rules that govern how you use those platforms, the algorithms etc. change even more regularly, so it’s all about keeping ahead of the curve. Back into 2014, I came up with a system that really worked. It involved a lot of leg work, but I’ll tell you one thing for sure, if you want success there are no shortcuts. Perseverance and hard graft are always at the heart of most people’s success. So…step one, assuming you’ve got a quality, radio playable or streaming product, otherwise known as music. That’s the real step one. And press shots. And a good bio. Then you need to ascertain your target audience. The easiest way to do this is to basically think, what other similar acts to us are there whose fans we can most easily steal? I chose Chvrches because they were doing well at the time, using 80s synth sounds, and making intelligent pop with emotional depth. So, I downloaded a free app which allowed me to easily follow hundreds of fans in a matter of hours. I plugged in Chvrches’ Twitter handle, up popped their followers and – tap, tap, tap. Follow, follow, follow. Then, I used a feature that allowed you to send an automated message to anyone who followed back. Something cheesy like, hey do you like synthpop? Check out our tunes on SoundCloud [link] and follow us on Facebook [link]. After that, it was just a numbers game. Out of every 100 accounts I followed, 20 would follow back and maybe 10 would follow the links, and 1 or 2 actually engage with you. Anyone who didn’t follow back, after a week you’d unfollow them and follow 100 more people. Of course, you’d get a few angry people along the way, but I just had to ignore the rage and keep going. At the same time, I began targeting small labels and blogs. I kid you not, within a month we had interest from a small independent label in NYC. A month later, we’d recorded a second EP and signed a deal with that label to release it. In terms of the promo technique, Twitter soon put a stop to that kind of thing and we rounded off at over 10,000 followers before I then unfollowed thousands of them to see how many would stay. It dropped to around 8,000 before it began rising organically again. But obviously now, Twitter is old news and you want to be looking at Instagram and Ticktock to pull similar kind of stunts in different and new ways. But the key is identifying your audience and taking the product to them, and social media is the best tool to do that yourself, for free.
Ken: How has touring helped you gain connection and loyal fans?
Issac: Touring was really the next step. I quickly realized that no one was just going to pop up and book us a tour without management and a label (I learnt a lot from the label but after six months we reached an agreement to leave and take our music and rights with us). So I came to one of the most important realizations of my music career so far. If you build it, they will come. Essentially, if you sit on your arse and wait for people to turn up and do shit for you, it’s never going to happen. Do it yourself. Because as soon as people see you working your ass off and having any kind of success, they want a piece of it. The trick is then to only work with the ones you trust. So I booked a few local gigs of our own, met a like-minded band making similar music and we booked and crowd funded our own co-headline national tour. We didn’t even use promoters, we hired the venues ourselves. It doesn’t matter that we only just broke even and barely anyone showed up, because we were making a statement and learning the ropes of touring. And lo and behold, the next year, we were on a European tour with Mesh and Aesthetic Perfection courtesy of our new booking agent, Jan Winterfeld of Pluswelt Promotions in Germany. And on day two, Daniel from Aesthetic Perfection offered to bring us to America. We made a batch of 100 CDs originally, just copied ones with a design printed and a card sleeve. We sold them and reinvested the money into buying more. For the first four years, we took no money from the band, we just reinvested everything while working day jobs. Then we branched out into t-shirts and eventually 7″ vinyl. We performed with older, more established bands, anyone that would have us basically, and then stole the hearts of their fans, and sold them our CDs. Every night, as soon as we’d broken down our kit, we’d be at the merch table meeting fans and signing whatever they wanted signing. For as long as we were wanted. We owe so much to Mesh, DE/VISION, Covenant, VNV Nation and many more amazing bands. But it was our polished music, professional and hardworking attitude that meant suddenly everyone wanted us as a support. We started having to turn down support tours after a while, to focus on doing our own.
Ken: What have you done to stay true to the art in your heart while branching into a wider spectrum as an artist?
Issac: I think as a DIY musician you have to wear many hats, and feel comfortable wearing them. The toughest part is remembering to keep putting as much time and effort into the music, because it’s easy to forget about it while you are busy selling it, and yourself. One thing that works for us is just separating the art and the business. I have to write songs because I want and need to write them, not because I need another product to sell. If I try and write an “Empathy Test” song, and it doesn’t work. Adam, the invisible producer member of the band, takes no part in the business or performance side of Empathy Test at all. That allows him to think outside of what will sell, what the fans want, or are expecting or asking for, what other bands in the scene are doing, and always deliver a sound which is a surprise and a challenge to our listeners. Also, by having one person writing the songs on an acoustic guitar (me) in any style they want, then a second person (Adam) translating that into a completely different style with different instruments, usually initially both in isolation, you’re always going to keep things different and fresh. When I heard Adam’s demo of our new track, Moths (release TBC), I was blown away. It was so completely unexpected, while simultaneously so exactly what we should do next. I felt exactly how I’ve felt with pretty much everything we’ve done to date. Bringing in fresh influences, for example, Oliver Marson on keyboards, also helps keep things fresh.
Steven Archer – Ego Likeness/Stoneburner – Steven has been a true DIY master creating some of the most progressive industrial sounds propelling the genre into a new era. He has incorporated a stunning visual and stage element to remain on the cutting edge of the modern scene. In addition he is an artist through social media that actively engages and shares his process with videos and discussions how he creates both sound and image. A true master of pulling back the curtain and letting the fans inside.
Ken: How has the use of a multimedia experience been effective in creating an artistic experience fans are drawn to ?
Steven: I don’t know. I do believe that the more realized any given piece of art is, the more the audience will get out of it. And because of my fine arts back ground nothing I do is one dimensional. Songs have imagery that goes with them, paintings tell stories which influence the music etc. It’s very rare that I create any piece of work that is a stand alone thing. My goal whenever time permits is to get over realize an artistic vision as fully as possible and make all of those components available to the audience in hope that they get as much out of it as I do.
Ken: Your live show is a massive and memorable production even in a smaller venue, how do you achieve this effect without a $50,000 stage show ? Why does that matter?
Steven: Thanks! The key is spending my entire life poor, and deciding that was not going to stop me. Which ultimately means that I have to put the time in and do all of the work on my own. I am my infrastructure. Fortunately we live in the future so it’s totally feasible to have your own projection equipment, or run your entire sound setup from an iPad on stage, do your own editing, make your own stage clothes etc. It just takes time and the will to do it. I don’t write anything close to pop music. Not even within our tiny genre. Most of what I do isn’t made to dance to. None of my bands have ever been HUGE. But we write songs that matter to the people they make sense to. And they matter to us. So, even though both bands are in great labels, there is a very limited reach as far as promotion goes. Getting the word out, building an audience, it’s all on our shoulders. And if I’m going to go out on stage. I’m going to use as many tricks as I can think of to keep the audience engaged. To tell a story, to make it an experience. Someday, what I would really like to do is surround the audience with projections. Put them in the show to a degree. As to how I do it inexpensively? Lots of planning and research. Lots of problem solving and visualizing around corners. Whatever goes on stage has to fit in our minivan along with the gear, personal shit, merch and people. So that’s one hard limit. The other is that it needs to be able to be set up and torn down quickly by one or two people. To that end I spend a ton of time figuring out how to wire things up so they are easy to connect and disconnect quickly.
Ken: You give an interactive fan experience with your social media, sharing technique, videos, equipment, how does letting your fans behind the curtain add to connection with your art?
Steven: Historically many bands have been able to keep that wall up between their fans and themselves. We can’t afford to that. We do a ton of different thing from music to art and writing. And down here on this level with independent publishers and record labels, you have to be able to sell your product. You have to be able to make people excited about what you do. And the best way to do that is to show your own excitement. We figured out real early on that our product isn’t X band or book or whatever, it’s us. Steven and Donna. The idea being that if you come across us as musicians than that will hopefully lead you to the art or writing or whatever. So there’s that aspect of it. Also, D and I are both natural teachers. We love what we do and love talking to other people about it. I’ve taught art privately for 30 years, so it’s only natural that would become part of our social media presence. And the longer we were on social media the more we saw that there was a need for an ongoing dialog about mental illnesses, so over the years we’ve spent a decent amount of time talking to our fans about that as well. The nice thing about it for me, is that I am not a social animal, so talking to people online when I’m in that sort of place is great. Because it’s just accepted that people pop on and off when they are available. So it doesn’t interfere with the rest of my work. It’s also a great way to make sales directly to your audience. And post pictures of your weird ass cat.
Karl “Zoog” Learmont – Angelspit – LA Electronic Industrial Punk star has really been a touring star with an ability to really connect with fans. He does a weekly Twitch stream/group where he discusses recording and music techniques with other musicians. Instead of hoarding his knowledge, he truly lives the punk rock socialist ideas of lifting up everyone around.
Ken: 1) You have really used your community through remixes, artist workshops, and community hype to grow your name. What is the importance of this? How did you make these connections work to lift all ships?
I’m blessed to be in a position where I can build a community to teach and encourage each other. I’m fortunate enough to have a degree in music, so I can freely share knowledge with people who are not in a position to study music….but I am always the one learning from the workshops (!!).This is not a marketing device – it’s a way for me to give back and make an investment into the future of our community. I’m hoping these workshops will lift the bands involved. The ultimate aim is to help them produce and release a track, get it to their audience and get their video onto
Ken: You have a genuine connection with your fans, how has social media allowed you to let fans behind the curtain and be a part of your art?
Many fans have become friends. I have produced some of their releases. Sunday’s Art Of Rock has become a group of friends. They encourage me and keep me going. I talk to many online, and have spent many hours meeting and drinking with them at clubs and gigs. We are all in this wonderful tribe and we are all equal. People get to see the songs-in-progress via Angelspit’s Patreon, plus the free Art Of Rock meet-ups.
Ken: You create music that has a true punk rock ethos of political intensity in a time when the world seems more divided than ever. How do you use this genuine perspective to motivate fans and expand your ideas?
Karl: It’s hard…partly because I’m a bastard. I won’t tolerate anti-LGBQT, sexist, racist, radical-right-religious views….fuck those guys. Within our bubble there are many things that could divide. Some of these are important, some are trivial. It’s important to listen to others and grow. You’re only right half the time – but you never know which half that is. Lyrics are a great way to truly shoot your mouth off. I quote a lot of people I respect, and some I don’t. I’m currently getting a lot of feedback about the album – some ideas are agreed, some are not. I listen with an open mind some ideas I adopt, some I respect, some I reject. I encourage people to put their thoughts into lyrics, music, poetry, art – make something beautiful with your passion. The world needs to hear your thoughts. Someone, somewhere is going through the same thing you are – your art might be the things that makes them feel like they are not alone. ROCK!
Matt Fanale – Caustic / Klack / Daddybear –
Ken: The merch you make is very distinctive and creates a buzz around all the music you release, what connection does this make to your music and how do you make it relevant ?
Matt: I keep a really simple aesthetic with most all of my merch to keep it recognizable. I used KMFDM as a model for utilitarian branding. I wanted people identify a Caustic shirt within seconds in a club or at a show. It’s served me well. I got booked for a festival a long time back because the booker saw my shirts all over the fest the year before. I also try and give my merch the personality of my music. Caustic started out as this snotty, punky powernoise project. I tried to be funny as a way to both entertain and distract people from the quality of the music (not kidding:)). I’ll say what other people won’t say sometimes, which is never meant in a mean way, but the STOP SAMPLING FULL METAL JACKET shirts got me on everyone’s maps. The SURE, LIKE NINE INCH NAILS shirts were a big hit, too. I just know that if I’m having fun my audience will, too. With all that said, sometimes I think I’ll be remembered more for the shirts than the music, but I guess anything works.
Ken: You have a close connection to your fanbase, offer multiple projects and twitch streams to interact with fans, how do you use this to create a buzz around your songs?
Matt: I mean when it all comes down to it it’s connecting with people on a simple level. I don’t do everything for “Branding” (trademarkcopyright), but it’s pretty great just knowing you have something in common with other people, and it’s even cooler if it’s because of something creative you’re doing. The Twitch streams started with the pandemic as a means to get out of my head for a few hours, but I’ve really enjoyed diving into genres I didn’t ever DJ in the clubs, like my old school hip hop night. I think all the nights just give people an excuse to hang out online, chat, and enjoy the music. A lot of (significantly more successful) Twitch DJs talk a bunch more than I do on their streams, but I’m literally just using Twitch as an excuse to chill with folks and practice the craft. The pandemic sucked, but I’m a better DJ than I’ve ever been, and I’ve been doing this 20 plus years.
Ken: You have been very successful on the festival scene, what helped lead you to this success and how does it help your music gain recognition?
Matt: Before I did music I did improv comedy for a decade. When I get on stage I’m there to entertain, and festivals are perfect for Caustic as you get a certain subset of people that are ideally fans and know what I do, and then plenty of people who have no idea about me or maybe don’t care. Something I think I do that a lot of other artists don’t is really trying to make Caustic sets memorable in that setting. There could be a few dozen other bands on the bill, and I’m rarely the headliner, so from day one at the first festivals I performed I made sure people wouldn’t forget it. Sometimes that would be me reading real life stories of people dealing with psychotic exes during a song to having people smuggle ugly underwear into the show and getting pelted with a hundred pairs during a track. I also like bringing people on stage as guest stars. At Mechanismus in Seattle a few years ago Dan from Continues/Babyland joined me to sing my cover of Babyland’s Worst Case Scenario, which I think was the first time he performed it since they broke up (I played that show with them, too). That meant the world to me, as did later on in the set when we did a Stromkern track with Ned on vocals. In terms of the sets themselves I plan them for maximum impact. I try to build the energy as high as possible so when we leave the stage I want the next band to be nervous to go up. Whether this happens or not I have no idea, but my job is to entertain the hell out of everyone and afterwards have people hear about it and wish they were there. That’s the only way to do it in my mind.
Dusty Gannon – Vision Video –
Ken: You more than anyone have been so effective connecting with fans on tik tok with the Goth Dad character to shine a light on Vision Video. How did you make this transition and what has it done for your band?
Dusty: The character of Goth dad is ultimately a composite of my goofy personality and my penchant for poking fun at the sometimes ridiculous level of seriousness that’s espoused within the goth subculture. I never expected it to blow up in the way that it did, but I now understand why people enjoy and find value in that character so much. While it does bring attention to Vision Video as a band, it has taken on a life of its own in a different way. Occasionally I will draw attention from that character to the fact that I’m in a band, but it’s a lot of work and you can’t constantly badger people about listening to your music because it becomes patronizing. TikTok like any other social media platform is a tool that can be used effectively to tell your story and to get the word out about your art. At the end of the day, I think that’s the most important aspect of social media, is connection and commiseration through your story and what makes the core of your art meaningful and worth recognition.
Ken: You are so effective at combining your aesthetic and personality with the music you make. How important is this in the modern era and what tips would you give to bands trying to find their look?
Dusty: I think the goth scene for me has always been a confluence of music and fashion. I grew up as a teenager finding my truest self in that scene and was able to express myself as thoroughly with music as I could with fashion and makeup. That being said, I draw a lot of influence from a variety of places that are near and dear to me: much of my aesthetic is rooted in my experience in the military, where I like to use things like ammunition, casings and torn, rough, nearly post-apocalyptic clothing. I also take a lot of influence from the legendary performers of the past like Lux Interior or Johnny Slut. An insane amount of trashy B movie and horror film influence goes into my aesthetic (A goth who loves horror, geez no one has heard of that before ) In the makeup realm, I grew up wanting to be a special effects makeup artist for movies, but ended up joining the army instead. And that’s why I’m able to do what I do: I’m completely self-taught, and to be quite honest if I’m capable of teaching myself all of the stuff I do with makeup, quite literally anyone can do it because I feel like a complete moron most days. As far as finding your style or aesthetic, my only real recommendation is spending a lot of time finding the clothing and makeup or accessories that truly speak to who you are. It’s very easy to defer to fast fashion, especially in the goth world, but I think there is a lot more value and DIY and creating your own accessories and apparel.
Ken: Your sound has a distinctive retro nostalgia vibe with a modern flare. How do you cross over what you grew up loving with what you want to present to younger fans?
Dusty: Our music is a really accurate representation of the varied tastes of the members of our band. Everyone brings a different piece that is not always necessarily under the purview of Goth or postpunk. One thing that I think is really important for musicians in general, but particular to a those playing within a specific genre, is to try to push the envelope, take risks, and do things that aren’t just a replication of the past. We get a lot of comparisons to bands like The Cure or the Chameleons, and I absolutely adore both of those bands. While I think we pay a lot of homage to them, I’m not trying to make a direct facsimile version of them because it’s already been done and it wouldn’t be in our own tone of voice to speak the message of our music. We certainly never set out to try to make music that’s more accessible to a younger audience, but I think that has occurred to a degree because we’re making music that WE enjoy and not trying to sound like anything in particular. I like accessible music that has darker and rougher edges. I think one thing that has lent well to our sound is that it’s not something that has to grow on you, it’s something that you can jump right into. Accessibility or “poppiness” can be construed as a bad thing by some (especially in the aforementioned oh so serious goth and postpunk world), But it doesn’t take away from the meaningfulness of what we are singing about. Our songs are often about my experiences in war or seeing people die horrifically as a paramedic or firefighter. I think that juxtaposition only amplifies the value of our music. In my opinion, the most important aspect of creating art through the vehicle of music is authentically speaking from the heart in order to connect with people.
Daniel Graves – Aesthetic Perfection –
Ken: How have you been successful in the world stage using the one single a month technique? How has spotify lead to your success? How does the work you put in to making sure your music is top tier and interesting to both niche industrial fans and wider audiences?
Daniel: I’m a big advocate of reading the room. That is, understanding the zeitgeist, from both a cultural and technological point of view. Once you understand that, you can figure out where your voice fits into all of that. For the 12 in 12 project, it seemed like a very natural solution to the problem of the pandemic. How can I keep people interested and engaged in a world where touring is no longer possible? How long does it take for the timeline to refresh and for audiences to crave something new? The answer to that is 3-4 weeks. It seemed quite obvious that I should be putting out new material every month in order to keep my audience, and the algorithm happy.
Ken: How has spotify lead to your success?
Daniel: A lot of people misinterpret my pro-streaming stance as a pro-Spotify stance. The truth is, I’m pro-zeitgeist. I’musing the current moment to maximize my reach and amplify my voice. As soon as streaming stops being a part of that, I will happily pivot.
Ken: How does the work you put in to making sure your music is top tier and interesting to both niche industrial fans and wider audiences?
Daniel: Again… just read the room. What is popular? What do you like about what’s popular? More importantly, what do you dislike about it? How can you use that to your benefit? How can that hurt you? How far do you push the world in the direction you want to go? How do you yield to it? A lot of people tend to read this approach as selling out, when the reality is that you’re just learning how to say what you want to say in the language that the world currently speaks. Doesn’t matter if you have the most interesting or profound idea mankind has ever seen, if you’re speaking Spanish and the audience speaks Mandarin, your words will be meaningless. The job of the artist is to bridge this gap
Collin Cameron- Slighter – LA electronic abstract texture artist who has broken through using empathy based emotional noise to get into the film/tv scene. This is one of the most difficult and effective ways to do financially effective promotion in the modern age. Combining media and music is the modern expectation to form a lasting connection in music.
Ken: You have been able to transition into TV/film soundtracks. How did you get involved and how has that brought a wider audience to your music?
Colin: My involvement started in LA, I don’t think it would have happened to me if I wasn’t there. And with luck you have to make your own. During the 2010s when I was there working with bands and making tunes I made connections with music supervisors and learned about music publishing and how to do it myself. And at the time it was a great way for indie artists to get on TV soundtracks if you took control of your music in that capacity. Exposure on national television is great, but people still have to go and find you after watching! So there’s no guarantee of built in fans from it. But always nice to have someone come around and say “I loved that song from FOX’s Bones!” and the paychecks that brings to allow me to make more weird music.
Ken: You have been able to generate interest while playing in some fringe genres. What are you doing to connect with fans while staying true to your vision?
Colin: I’m a perpetual outsider really, and growing up moving around small towns I pretty much just kept to myself. I wasn’t exposed to many scenes and genres locally as I did self discovering electronic music, industrial music, IDM, etc. via the those first chat rooms and message boards in the early days of the internet. Without the sort of ‘peer pressure’ of local scenes and whatnot, my taste just became very eclectic. My vision has always been to make music that subverts standard genre, and the struggle with the world today of ‘branding’ and neat and tidy boxes to fit music in does make it a challenge. I think having a ‘signature approach’ to writing music makes my stuff sound like Slighter, but I’m sure I’ve alienated a few with the journey I’m on! I think if you’re making art for self expression, that it will resonate with certain people over time. Just make eclectic your brand!
Ken: How do you connect with new fans on social media?
Colin: Word of mouth really, my background coupled with doing a bunch of high profile remixes helps to give me clout. I like everyone struggle with social media reach and I’m not very fond of the idea of being perpetually engaged with social media as it’s not mentally healthy for creative work. I schedule time to make the social media rounds and keep up with my newsletter and Bandcamp followers directly. Definitely think it’s important for artists to understand how detrimental social media is to authentic creativity, too much of it and you’re pulling punches in your work to appease what Twitter will say about it. So I think it’s important to take that into consideration while trying to grow your social media presence, don’t let it in to your studio/creative space!
My genuine hope is that people are able to use these tips and advice from successful artists to project new art to the next level. This is a skill you can learn and improve from. Give any tips you have in the comments below. Share this wide and far, it is good advice for everyone.
If reading the phrase “industrial holiday ballad” skeeved you out any, I assure you that you aren’t the only one with a raised eyebrow. While Aesthetic Perfection mastermind Daniel Graves is no stranger to ballads – the tear-jerking closer to Blood Never Spills Far From the Wound that was “Devotion” comes to mind – a holiday-flavored tune seems especially out of pocket. Leave it to the Austrian implant to shake things up once again, as he wraps up his 2021 twelve songs in as many months project with “Lonesome Ghosts.”
As Graves himself writes:
“Lyrically, it tells the story of our longing for connection, our desire not to be alone, and offers hope that there is truly a chance at redemption – we’re not all doomed to spend our lives haunted by ghosts of the past.”
Teaming with Lord of the Lost’s Chris Harms, who also mixed the track, and German composer Corvin Bahn (Crystal Breed, Perpetual), Graves brings us a lamenting number about the longing, the Sehnsucht if you will that comes with this time of year, and with the ever-present beast that is the ongoing pandemic breathing down our necks, this loneliness can feel all too magnified.
Things start off soft, with a piano and Daniel’s voice, but by the time we hit the end, we have a guitar solo, a full orchestra, and sleigh bells ringing in what some call the most wonderful time of the year. Is it a quintessential AP track? Depends. Should it be someone’s first exposure to the king of independent industrial pop? Perhaps not. Is it a testament to the breadth of genres or subgenres that Daniel Graves can explore not only competently, but to a fair amount of success? Absolutely.
Check out the video for “Lonesome Ghosts” below, and stream/purchase the single on Bandcamp: